BY ANOOP PARIKH
Old stuff is cool. It’s axiomatic in East London. Reclaiming old fittings, repurposing found objects, and questioning the idea that new is always better
Londoner Lee Thornley, the founder of Bert & May, is one of its early advocates. His love of reclaimed architectural fittings stems from the early 2000s, although it wasn’t triggered by something locally. Instead, he was setting up a reclaimed tile company in Andalucia, and sourcing materials for Casa La Siesta, a soon-to-be award-winning boutique hotel in Cadiz. Fashioned from an old country ‘Cortijo’ or farmhouse, the property used old wood, tiles and rare antique fittings wherever possible.
In 2010, Lee met Juan Menacho, the owner of a defunct family business that had specialised in handmade encaustic tiles. Also known as inlaid tiles, these were popular from the 13th to 16th century, and they enjoyed a huge revival in Victorian Britain, when they became the material of choice for porches, hallways and other high traffic domestic areas. Lee and Juan bonded over a shared love of the chalky finish and artisan feel of these tiles, and they saw an opportunity to produce their own range of vintage-inspired designs. The family factory re-opened, and production began.
After a rebrand, the company was officially launched as Bert & May in 2013, and they opened their first showroom in Vyner Street, Bethnal Green. A former warehouse on the Regent’s Canal, this now features the entire product range, which has grown to include engineered wood, natural paints, furniture, bathroom fittings and kitchens. The space also includes a design studio, offering a bespoke service for residential and commercial interior design projects.
A bold use of simple geometric shapes, and a soft colour palette, characterises the Bert & May look today. It’s exciting yet easy to live with. And you can see it slotting comfortably into pretty much any type of interior, be it a Victorian conversion, an apartment taking its cues from mid-century design, or a family-friendly hotchpotch of randomly acquired furnishings. It has spawned a number of successful collaborations too, including a tile range for The Conran Shop, tile and fabric collections with hip East London design brand Darkroom, and graphic upholstery fabrics for sofa.com.
“All the patterns and designs on our new products started once as an antique tile,” says Lee. “Our kitchens are all about the material, the reclaimed timber and the raw finishes. Our paints and fabric prints are created using natural pigments. And our bathrooms feature concrete and brass that will patina beautifully over time. I think we’ve created a timeless and effortless aesthetic that can be adapted to many a personal style.”
Bert & May
67 Vyner Street, Bethnal Green, E2 9DQ